5/21/2013


"There once was a clothes-conscious but obese woman who dreamt of being fashionable, seductive and feeling beautiful," says new designer on the block, Veronique Sibille.

Like a growing number of fashion firms across Europe, Sibille, a once overweight but now curvaceous former ship's cook turned clothing entrepreneur, is stepping into the breach to provide smart clothes for women unable to fit into the petite sizes offered by most boutiques or department stores.

And for the first time in its history, the Paris Pret-a-Porter show, a twice-a-year fashion event taking place this week, set aside special floor place for several dozen specialist firms producing sizes from 44 to 60 (18 to 34 in Britain, 16 to 32 in the United States, 17 to 33 in Japan).

"There is a demand for this," the head of France's powerful ready-to-wear federation Jean-Pierre Mocho, told AFP. "And the idea is not simply to make existing models bigger but to show creative new designs in large sizes."

Sibille, 45 and now a plump European size 44, set up her line of women's fashion from sizes 36 to 60 six months ago "because I once was stout and could never find any nice clothes.

"A young woman who wears size 46 (a British size 20) should be able to wear the same clothes as her friend who wears a 38 (British size 12)," she said.

Determined to break with the draping, dull-coloured garb often dished up for the oversized as a cover-up for excess weight, Sibille's line is all bright colours and sharp cuts with special touches -- baggy-style jeans, sleeves that are never too short, hidden elastics and plunging necklines "because stout women often have nice breasts".

In Barcelona, Spain's fashion capital, Marta Redon heads Biluzik, a six-year-old firm whose posters and catalogues feature young plus-sized girls hanging out in trendy denim mini-skirts and stylish hipster jeans.

"These poor girls were cast aside, there were no fashion clothes available to them," she said in an interview. "We are working to make sure that large sizes are no longer taboo."

In a radical move, she plans to place her plus-size ads in Marie-Claire magazine at the end of the year.

According to France's Textile and Clothing Institute, IFTH, there is a growing market for larger sizes as women grow taller and heavier through the years.

Currently 41.14 percent of French women wear sizes 44 to 56 (18 to 30 in Britain), with 40 (12 in the US, 14 in Britain and 13 in Japan) the most popular size -- 20.59 percent). Ten percent of 15-25 year-olds and 54 percent of 65-70 year-olds are either overweight or obese.

"Why haven't manufacturers invested in this market, which is much more than just a niche market?" said Viviane Gacquiere, the head of a French organisation fighting discrimination against overweight people, Allegro Fortissimo.

"When you're fat clothes are extremely important, they help self-esteem," she said. The majority of the 1,000 daily visits to the organisation's website concerned queries on clothing, said Gacquiere, who wears a 54 (28 in Britain).

"The specialist boutiques offer clothing five times as expensive as small sizes," she added.

Paris ready-to-wear supremo Mocho said that on the European scene, Germany and Italy had already developed clothing lines for the oversized but that France was far behind.

Many specialist firms said demand was growing in Russia and the United States. And if Sibille's Viladoh label, which designs for the largest size and then reduces down to the smallest, was anything to go by, it attracted buyers from France's Galeries Lafayette as well as Britain's department store chain, TK Maxx. (AFP) -PARIS, Sept 11, 2007

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